The Origin And Comparative Dignity Of The Fine Arts

The true work of art is but a shadow of the Divine perfection.-Angelo.

Music is the “typical fine art, the art of arts.” “No architect can build as the muse can.”-Emerson.

Genius is the infinite art of taking pains.-Carlyle. Diligence is the mother of good luck.-Franklin.

In tracing the history of the fine arts, we find before us an immense region of investigation. We would need to enter upon the task with patience and caution, for much of the territory that must be ventured upon is disputed ground.

The first period of all fine art was that of symbolism. The obscure ideas of primitive man struggled to find expression in rude symbolic art. This was perpetuated in the architecture of the early Egyptian and Asiatic races, and in some degree down to mediaeval Europe. Next came the lucid and self-possessed ideas of Greece and Rome, revealed in the classical art of sculpture. “Painting, music, and poetry were the romantic arts appropriate to the ages of complicated and overmastering ideas, and characteristic of modern humanity in general.” Such is the belief of Hegel.

Others take a somewhat different view of the history of the several arts, not believing that any one art was characteristic of a particular age. Herbert Spencer claims that the fine arts, like everything else in the universe, have been subject to the law of evolution, that they have all gradually developed side by side, and that in their rudimentary stage, the fine arts, especially architecture, sculpture, and painting, were attached to .and combined with each other. His argument is quite ingenious and plausible, with some modifications.

We are inclined to believe that sculpture, painting, architecture, and indeed all fine art, sprang up naturally and independently in all countries, everywhere alike, taking its origin in man’s imitative faculty. Man’s aesthetic activities seem to spring from an imperious instinct of his nature with which God endowed him. The artistic instinct, the love of representation, develops itself in man at the earliest period, and in all countries. The child delights to trace forms of familiar objects. Primitive men and all savages have rudely given shape in outline and in profile to men, animals, and things that commonly met their view. The imitative faculty of man in all ages appears in the rough sketches and coarse drawings found on stones, robes, and various surfaces. Rude outline figures were thus used to illustrate the manners and customs of the remotest age. That man’s aesthetic activities began to exercise them-selves at a very early period is attested by the rudimentary scratches and carvings of the cave-dwellers, the simply-arranged mud hut or skin tent of the savage and his painted war-club and feathered arrow, by the shepherd who first notched his reed and drew sounds from it, and by the wild man who tattooed or plumed himself.

Even before the close of the Stone Age, we find that primitive man produced evidences of an aesthetic nature, for he has left relics of stone axes polished, arrow-heads worked quite elaborately and artistically, weapons with bone and horn handles gracefully carved, pottery crudely decorated, figures of familiar animals engraved on slate, bone, and ivory, and even portraits and sketches of species of animals long since extinct. A recent writer, under the topic Artistic Atmospheres, says:

” Mankind are universally endowed, in some degree,. with the art feeling, which is but another name for the sense of the beautiful, and with the art impulse, which is the desire to give expression to the conceptions of beauty, whether evolved from the soul, as in music and poetry, or constructed from the elements originally furnished by the perception of outward objects, as in painting and sculpture. There is, however, a vast difference between the coarse statuary of Egypt and the masterpieces of a Michael Angelo or a Praxiteles, between the gaudy and childish paintings of China and those which adorn the walls of European and American art galleries, between the rude song of the plantation negro and the works of a Beethoven, a Verdi, or a Gounod.”

There are five of the so-called greater fine arts, usually named in the following order, beginning with the least: -architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, music.

As the arts have advanced from the rude symbolic art of primitive man to the present finest of the fine arts, the spiritual element has predominated more and more over the material, so that in this age the characteristic arts are music, poetry, painting arts in which thought, passion, sentiment, aspiration, emotion, emerge in freedom, dealing as masters with material form, or declining its shackles altogether.”

Of the fine arts, there are those called the formative, which reach the soul through the medium of the eye – as painting, sculpture, architecture. Then there are the fine arts that reach the soul through the channel of the ear-as music and poetry. Sight and hearing are considered the higher or intellectual senses. There are no fine arts of taste or smell. These are not aesthetic-pleasures. We do not properly apply to them the term beautiful. Taste and smell are not the highest or most permanent pleasures.

The fine arts appeal wholly to the rational susceptibility and not at all to the animal. The living feeling, or the feelings of living beings are always expressed in some pure form of art-in certain shapes to the eye and certain tones to the ear. When reason apprehends living feeling in natural forms or works of art, it also awakens in the observer’s bosom its own consequent. and peculiar feeling. To the contemplative mind everything in nature and art has a meaning; there is a peculiar sentiment, a music in the breeze, the stream, the sounding ocean shore, the tempest, as well as in the measured numbers of poetry and song; nature has a living soul, and to the sentient spirit the cold marble statue has its warm beating heart.

In the classic art sculpture of ancient Greece, the spiritual and material elements seemed to be in equilibrium. The highest art-the true art of intellect and soul, makes matter subordinate and tributary to spirit. Spirit must rule matter and not the reverse. In the lower forms of art it will always be noticed that matter is predominant. As it rises in dignity, matter yields to the supremacy of form and the ideal. Sculpture is superior to architecture because “less subjected to mat-ter,” and representing the living body. Painting is higher than cither and expresses the full life of the soul, employing only a colored surface, and very little coarse material, and producing only a “semblance of materiality.” Painting and sculpture are obliged to employ material bodies to express ideas and suggest actions. Poetry has the advantage of these arts in that it employs no material objects, but only suggests them in the epic, the ode, or the drama.

Poetry is an idealized imitation of natural facts by words in “regulated combination.” It is the language ,of beauty. What better exponent of uature’s beauty than poetry! What secrets of the human heart has Shakspeare not revealed! See how he makes dead heroes live, and Milton’s very Satan is made to look sublime! The great age of English poets was in the days of Elizabeth, and it is to be remarked that the other fine arts then and there hardly had an existence.

There are numberless things that painting and sculpture cannot represent or imitate at all, as motion, thought, abstract ideas, or arguments. Then, there are some things that these two arts can represent more effectively than poetry, yea, which poetry has no words to depict, as lights and shades, colors, forms, smiles, glances of the eye, and the relative position of objects. Sculpture can represent a single significant action, and fix and perpetuate it forever. Who that has seen the Laocoon in the Vatican, or Angelo’s Moses, or Rodgers Nydia, can ever forget the thrilling attitude or facial expresssion!

Higher than all other fine art is music, because it employs only pure tone, eliminates all elements of matter and space, and its content is the inner emotional nature. Music is the most subjective – the most purely spiritual of the arts. It is the typical fine art, the art of arts, because the composer is so free and unfettered. Emerson declares that no architect can build as the muse can. A poem may be a noble work of art, as Homer’s Iliad. Poetry calls up in the mind, by means of measured words, ideas and images of things and excites corresponding emotions.

Music, on the other hand, does not give delight by ” communicating definite ideas, or calling up particular emotions.” Pure music is a non-imitative art. The musician may with instrument or voice attempt to imitate natural phenomena, as thunder, hail, rain, notes of birds, but, as Colvin observes, such playful excursions into a region of quasi-imitation or mimicry are hazardous, and to make them often is the surest proof of vulgarity in a musician.

There is a mystery, a secret charm in music that is inexplicable. About all we can say is that “music is music;” it is like nothing else. It has an essential character of its own, and when it is accompanied by words, the ideas expressed come through the words and not the music, for the same words would convey the same ideas without the music.

Prof. Sidney Colvin further says: ” What the music contributes is a special element of its own, an element of pure emotion which heightens the effect of the words upon the feelings, without in the least helping to elucidate them for the understanding. Nay, it is well known that a song produces its intended effect upon the feelings almost as well though we fail to catch the words or are ignorant of the language to which they belong.” An American audience has been so charmed as to encore again and again an Italian, or Spanish, or Swedish opera singer who could not, or did not, sing at all in English; and indeed, some of our own sweetest singers hardly make their words understood, yet their music hath charms. The highest music, those glorious and intricate fabrics of melody and harmony of the great masters, Mozart, Hadyn, Beethoven, and others, are immense constructions of independent sound,” wholly detached from words. It is only within the last two hundred years that music has had its wonderful independent development.

We look upon Beethoven, who was the pupil of Mozart and Hadyn, as the greatest of all musical artists. He was inspired by the profoundest sense of truth and reality. He conceived and composed most of his grandest works during his lonely walks in the country around Vienna, where he received new impulse from his admiring communion with nature. At the age of twenty-five, Beethoven began to grow deaf, and finally could not hear his own wonderful compositions. At one time, when he was performing at the Academie concert his Ninth Symphony and parts of his grand Missa Solemnis, a storm of applause was produced inaudible, alas! to the composer, who had to be turned round by one of the singers to realize, from the waving of hats and handkerchiefs, the effect of his work on the excited multitude.” Does not the fact that he was thus completely deprived of hearing – of the charms of his own art, prove the triumph of mind over matter, of genius over circumstance? Behold the spectacle of an artist deaf himself, yet “pouring forth the lonely aspirations of his soul in works all the more sublime as we seem to hear in them the voice of the innermost spirit of man-kind, inaudible to the keen ears of other mortals!” Beethoven reached a perfection both in his creations and execution, previously unknown, and never_ since equalled. The euphonious beauty, the infinite variety and depth of emotion displayed in some of his compositions, both vocal and instrumental, reflect “a heart full of love, and a mind bent on thoughts of eternal things.”

Men cannot be taught to invent or compose. They may be endowed, or rather they may endow themselves with that sort of genius that is born of close thought, deep feeling and hard work. Some of the old masters were no doubt divinely and specially inspired for their immortal work. Why not? Ruskin believes that only Deity, that is to say, those who are taught by Deity, can turn dead walls and dead roofs into living ones. A man brought his young son to the artist Kneller with the request that he teach the youth painting, as his pupil. The artist replied, “Dost thou think, man, I can make thy son a painter? No, God Almighty only makes painters.”

An inventor is not necessarily an artist, because-worthy and useful as he is, he is not free from the idea of utility and having some definite end in view. The artist cannot impart his gift, his genius, his imagination to another. He is not bound by set rules and precepts, and is wholly independent of utility, his activities are spontaneous-a species of inspiration. The workman who depends on rules and skilled practice with a determinate and prescribed end in view, we call a mechanic, craftsman, artificer, artisan-not artist-Who can “write down, in a way that others can act upon in their turn, how Beethoven conquered unknown kingdoms in the world of harmony, and established new laws by the inspired violation of old; or how Rembrandt turned the aspects of spiritual abjectness and physical gloom into pictures as worthy of contemplation as those into which the Italians had for ages turned the aspects of spiritual exaltation and shadowless day?”

While the fine arts are said to have technical foundations which are matters of rule and precept and the artist masters all rules and learns what is possible in his art, yet the fine arts can “be rightly practiced only by following, in a region outside the reach of rule and precept the free prompting of some of the finest faculties of the spirit.”

Imitation of a good model leads on to originality; yet he is not a true artist who is only a copyist of other men’s work, of even his own work. There is no thought-life in mere imitation. Fine art is the product. of living spirit rather than of cold intellect. A man may speak from his heart-write, paint, carve, build, work in any line from his heart. Or, he may pursue his duty in a lifeless, perfunctory way. The tree is known by its fruit. That music is the best which is not a mere performance, but rouses in the human heart the-purest and loftiest sentiments. If art wins the heart, it is also true that heart makes the art. There may be a dead architecture, a dead sculpture or painting, or these may all be full of life and spirit, giving delight. and exerting a potent and valuable influence.

The dignity and pleasure-giving property of a work will be proportioned to its “vivid expression of the intellectual life which has been concerned in its production.” What impresses and agreeably affects us in viewing a work of art is not only its abstract beauty but also its evident outlay of human toil and skill and care in its production. Hence, an ornament that is-cast or machine-made is in bad taste and gives no real pleasure. A piece of glass may have perhaps as much abstract beauty as a diamond, but we love to look upon the diamond, because it is rare, hard to find, and difficult to cut and polish.

A man may turn himself into a machine. When his. heart is in his work, he is not a machine. He is a complete man when he puts both mind and heart into his work and does his best. To excite emotion, the artist must have felt emotion; to impress others he must have been impressed himself. Works of art, like words that are from the heart, will find their way to the heart.

He is not a true artist whose chief aim is to attract attention by novelty. An artist misses his calling, too, when he designs and executes a work chiefly to advertise his own skill and mechanical dexterity, and exalt himself. Unconsciousness of self is the secret of true success. Utter self-forgetfulness and profound absorption in the subject-matter for its own sake have wrought out the sublimest conceptions of art. It was said of Turner, the great English painter, that all of his important works were executed with a total disregard of time and price. He it was who, when asked the secret of his success, replied, “I have no secret but hard work.” In Second Chronicles, it is said of one that He did it with all his heart and prospered.”

The secret of so many poor works of art is that the authors were bread-winners, that they manufactured their work to sell. ” The mercantile element ruins a painting.” When an artist is so absorbed in his work that he takes no account of passing time, forgets that he is weary, forgets that it is meal-time or bed-time, and would rather all but starve than spare any pains or make any concessions to circumstances,-then we may look for a production that will last, that will be a joy forever. The great masters of art have been those who composed and painted and carved for eternity. Their achievements have only been thc result of carefulness, hard work, and indomitable perseverance. Angelo once said, ” Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”

We have heard and read a great deal about the works: of genius, but one thing is evident, and that is that severe labor is necessary to genius. A recent writer well observes: ” Great composition cannot be produced by any amount of labor, nor can good music, nor good art of any kind; but it cannot be produced without labor. It is a curious fact, also, that the writers who have most natural talent have the greatest capacity for taking pains. It is so in the other arts. There are painters who will paint you twelve large pictures in two, days at a dollar apiece, and they are dear at the price. There are painters who will work two years over one not large painting, and work, too, with an ardor and joyous intensity of which the wholesale dauber can form no idea. Then they will sell it for many thousands of dollars.”

Virgil toiled eleven years on the AEneid. When the famous violinist, Geradini, was asked how long it took’ him to learn to play, he answered, Twelve hours a day for twenty years.” One of Titian’s great paintings was on his easel eight years and another seven, before they were completed.

An artist in Italy worked thirteen years simply on the clay model of a statue. There is a sunset scene wrought entirely in mosaic wood and presenting the appearance of a fine oil painting when viewed at a little distance. It is composed of 128 kinds of wood and 230,000 pieces. The artist worked eleven years upon it. There is a, mosaic table in Florence, ten feet in diameter, that, we were told, we could have by leaving 8150,000. We left the table. In the Dresden gallery there is a large Sevres china vase, exquisitely beautiful in its delicate tracery and flawless transparency, that is worth many times its weight in gold. In the Sistine chapel of the Vatican may be seen the marvelous ceiling frescoed by Angelo himself, and the unrivaled tapestries of Raphael decorate the side walls. The ceiling of the Sistine chapel has, been called the grandest monument of painting of any age. Angelo was engaged upon it six years. As well try to describe the vault of the sky at night, The ” Last Judgment,” painted by Angelo on the altar wall of this wonderful chapel, contains over four hundred human figures, and is sixty-four feet in width.

Sir Walter Scott’s monument, in Edinburgh, has been called a beautiful dream in stone, the finest piece of Gothic stone architecture. It is pronounced the most elegant monument in the world. It occupied five years in building and cost $75,000. The architect was a self-taught genius named Kemp. He became drunk one night, fell into the canal and was drowned. The beautiful and exquisite Apprentice Pillar may be seen in the Roslyn chapel near Edinburgh. Prentice, the pupil, while his master was absent in Rome to procure some new plans for the decoration of the interior of the chapel, carved this pillar himself, and when his master returned and saw how far superior his pupil’s pillar was to anything he could execute, he in his jealousy and rage killed the pupil. The Albert Memorial, in Hyde Park, London, cost $600,000. It is 175 feet high, and gorgeously embellished with bronze and marble statues, gildings, colored stones and mosaics. Trajan’s column, excavated from the ruins of old Rome, is built entirely of marble, and ornamented with elaborate relief scenes from Trajan’s wars and containing more than 2,500 human figures, beside those of animals. The famous Coliseum is the most conspicuous of all the monuments of ancient Rome, and one of the most imposing structures ever built by man, surpassed only by the pyramids in size and superior to them in varied contrivance of design. Its walls inclose an area of six acres, and it afforded seats for over 100,000 people. Only one-third of the stupendous structure remains-a grand and awe-inspiring ruin. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, captive Jews were compelled to toil in the construction of the coliseum, on the arena of which large numbers of them were afterwards slaughtered by the wild beasts to make a Roman holiday. In the Capitol at Rome we may now see the original and world-renowned piece of sculpture known as the “Dying Gladiator.” It was unearthed among the ruins of the Gardens of Sallust. This and the “Laocoon” of the Vatican have been called the pride of the world in sculpture. Worn and cracked and stained by the unknown centuries that have passed over them, they still baffle all efforts to rival their perfection.

Cologne cathedral, standing alone in dignity and grandeur, is one of the noblest temples ever erected by man to the honor of his Creator. Its western facade is hardly surpassed in purity and excellence. This magnificent edifice was commenced in the year 1270, and its twin marble spires, the highcst in the world, towering 510 feet, were not completed till this present century. There is no wood at all about these Old World cathedrals.

The facade of the Strasburg cathedral with its matchless rose window is regarded by some as even more beautiful and imposing than that of Cologne.

The foundation of St. Peter’s cathedral at Rome was laid in 1406, and it was more than 200 years in building. It is not admired for its exterior beauty, though its mighty dome is the masterpiece in architecture of that greatest art-genius of modern times, Michael Angelo. The roof of St. Peter’s covers five acres, and the diameter of the dome where it leaves the roof is 195 feet. The interior of St. Peter’s is incomparable in the harmony of its vast proportions and in its priceless art treasures and furnishings. The building itself has cost over fifty millions, and its contents far more. In addition to the “High Altar” there are twenty-nine other altars, only one of which can be shown at a time, as in our illustration, By one of the great marble pillars •inside is a statue of St. Peter sitting on a throne of white marble beneath a canopy. This statue is 1,400 years old, and though of the hardest black bronze, the toes and part of one foot are entirely worn away by the countless kisses of devout Catholics. Everything within St. Peter’s is on such a scale of vastness that men and women walking about are dwarfed into little children by the side of the stupendous columns and statues and figures in the paintings and mosaic pictures. We noticed a mosaic portrait of one of the apostles who appeared to us from the pavement below to be the size of an ordinary man, yet the pen in his hand with which he was writing was six feet in length.

The cathedral at Milan has been called the eighth wonder of the world. This colossal structure is built entirely of fine white marble. The original designer, Marco Campioni, worked forty-six years on the design alone. It has been over five hundred years in building and will hardly be completed for a hundred years to come, though it now appears finished to the ordinary beholder. Over one hundred and ten millions of dollars have been expended upon it. It has seven thousand marble statues-praising and praying forms, of saints and angels-already in position, and when completed will have three thousand more. Besides, it has two thousand bas – reliefs. The paintings, as well as statues and ornaments that adorn both the inside and outside of this magnificent temple are the work of celebrated masters. One sculptor worked forty years for the enrichment of this cathedral. The statue of St. Bartholomew to be seen here took eight years of the artist’s time. One of the pinnacles is surmounted by a statue of Napoleon, the work of the great Canova. Down in the crypt are to be seen solid gold crosses, sparkling diamonds and emeralds, candlesticks and croziers, and cups -and vase’s of solid gold all aglow and set with gems and precious stones. Here, too, are solid silver images of saints and virgins more than life-size. The entire weight of these treasures, not to mention the workmanship, makes their value over ten millions of dollars. The mammoth windows of this cathedral, forty in number, all resplendent with scenes in the Savior’s life, are the work of the great masters, each window having some elaborate design wrought often in mosaic of thousands of infinitesimal pieces of tinted glass or precious stone.

Ascending to the lofty roof, we are in the midst of a dazzling white marble garden, infinite in variety, so called from the countless number of sculptured fruits, flowers, buds, and plants -over fifteen thousand species being represented – no two can be found alike.

There is a heavenly bcauty about this structure. It hardly seems to have had an earthly origin. It has been variously called by its astonished and enraptured beholders, “a vision, a miracle, an anthem sung in stone, a poem wrought in marble,” “the beautiful Alp of Architecture,” “a piece of jeweler’s work magnified a million times,” “the princeliest creation that ever brain of man concieved,” ” a fragment of heaven vouchsafed to earth.” This architectural beauty crystallized in white marble-why not call it frozen music?

The Egyptian obelisks have been regarded by some as the most beautiful of all monumental forms. They consist of a single block of stone, red granite generally, four-sided, and tapering gradually to the top of the shaft, which terminates in a small pyramidion. Some of these shafts are over a hundred feet in height and weigh over five hundred tons. Each face is carved with hieroglyphical inscriptions in a perpendicular line. Some other nations have tried to imitate these obelisks, but they have never equaled their Egyptian models which were made with marvelous skill and knowledge -of mechanism. Some of these obelisks are known by their inscriptions to be over four thousand years old. As we stood with hat off, and in silence, gazing at these venerable monuments of remote antiquity, we could hardly realize that they were in existence more than two thousand years before Christ came; that Joseph and Moses had no doubt looked upon them; that Phythagoras and Heroditus had read their inscriptions; that Darius and Alexander and Julius Caesar and a host of other celebrities down to the time of Napoleon and later, has passed before them.

The mysterious pyramids of Egypt, of which there are thirty-eight scattered throughout the valley of the Nile, are built with wonderful mathematical precision, and they are a study within and without. They attest the skill and patient industry and painstaking labor of their builders. The geometrical symplicity of the pyramids gives to them an air of beauty and impressiveness. Cheops, the largest, covers thirteen and one-half acres and towers five hundred feet into the sky-an artificial mountain of stone carefully hewn and piled up by myriads of men in some remote age of the past-not less than four thousand years ago. There are single stones in the pyramids, more than thirty feet long, which fit so closely upon each other that a pen-knife may be run over the surface without discovering the break between them. They were probably rubbed backward and forward upon each other until their surfaces were assimilated.

The portrait statue of Rameses II., fragments of which are still to be seen among the ruins of ancient Thebes, weighed one hundred and twelve tons. It was hewn out of a single block of Syenite granite, and measures twenty-two feet across the shoulders, five feet across the foot, a toe being three feet long.

The incomparable palace temple of Karnac was approached by superb avenues two miles long, eleven in number, and each lined on both sides with great carved stone sphinxes only twelve feet apart. ” The imagination which in Europe arises far above porticos, sinks abashed at the foot of the one hundred and forty stone columns of the hypostile hall at Karnac. The area of this hall is fifty-seven thousand six hundred and twenty-six feet. The central columns are thirty-four feet in circumference, and sixty-two feet in height, without reckoning the plinth and abacus, and they are covered with paintings and sculptures, the colors of which are wonderfully fresh and vivid.” In the rear of the great halls was the sanctuary built wholly of red granite, and whose ” roof was formed of three blocks of granite, which shone with clustered golden stars in a. sky of azure.” In various parts of this palace-temple, ” the most precious metals were employed for decoration, and cornices have been found inlaid with ivory mouldings, or sheathed with beaten gold.”

No one knows how the gigantic columns of Thebes were quarried and then transported,- some of them one hundred and forty miles from the quarry, and then elevated into the position in which they are found. There are lost arts and lost civilizations. The glassmakers of Thebes, four thousand years ago, possessed the art of staining glass, and they produced it in profusion.

The foundations of the great temple at Baalbec are raised twenty feet above the level of the ground, and contain single hewn stones ninety feet in length, eighteen feet wide, and thirteen feet in thickness – a single stone being larger than two large furniture freight cars put together in one. How were they quarried ? How transported ? How raised and placed in the wall ? Think of the time, labor, and skill expended upon them !